UF Taste Testers Help Launch New Food Products

Ed Hunter (352) 392-1773 x 278

Charles Sims (352) 392-1991, ext. 211
Tara Russell (561) 999-1115

evaluating new orange juice drink
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GAINESVILLE — Companies working to bring a new food product to market have two questions — does it taste good and will consumers buy it?

Some get the answer to the first question through a University of Florida program that enlists UF students as taste testers for a variety of food products. Charles Sims, a professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, said the program is an important step in the process of bringing a new food or beverage to market.

“Sensory testing is critical for new product development and improving existing products,” Sims said. “The consumer is becoming more and more in tune with what tastes good and what doesn’t taste good.

“Consumers are not going to accept something that doesn’t taste good even if it is good for them or has certain benefits,” he said.

Sims said the UF taste-testing program puts a variety of products through the sensory testing process. Products tested have included orange juice, apple juice, juice blends and agricultural products such as peanuts, strawberries, mangoes and sweet corn, he said.

For a taste test of a beverage, Sims said, food science and human nutrition students prepare a tray containing samples of the product, usually one small cup of the product being tested and another containing a sample of a commercial beverage. They taste each sample and indicate on survey form which one they liked better and why.

“You take a prototype product from a company and compare it to a traditional product that’s on the market,” Sims said. “The company wants to know how their product compares to other commercial products.”

Sims said it is important for companies to obtain impartial opinions of their products to see if any changes are needed before they put them on the market.

“A company has to know how their food product is perceived by the consumer,” Sims said. “It’s easy for a manufacturer to think their food product tastes good until they ask people off the street who know what tastes good to them.”

UF students recently tested a prototype of a new weight-loss beverage for Boca Raton-based consumer health products company Rexall Sundown. Tara Russell, Rexall Sundown’s director for new business development, said taste testing is an essential part of the process of bringing a new product to market.

“Rexall Sundown has found the University of Florida taste testing program quite helpful when evaluating new products,” she said. “You can’t put a product on the market that doesn’t taste good, and the students will let us know if we have achieved that goal or not.”

Sims said the companies aren’t the only ones to benefit from the testing program.

“We feel there are a lot of benefits from this program,” Sims said. “It gives our students some financial support and it also gives them some practical work experience and training in the field of food science.”